The latest wave of xenophobia which hit the streets of cities and towns in South Africa has so far left half a dozen dead, thousands displaced and extensive property destroyed.
As the xenophobic attacks rage out of the whack, thousands of fellow African immigrants are now forced to flee into crowded and heavily guarded transit tents, while the lives of many more thousands are held at risk in various darkest corners.
Tasked with efforts of finding answers for what triggered the recent wave of xenophobia, and who exactly its targets are, many including the mainstream media have been glossing over the facts.
The lack of a label
The problem begins with the lack of a label. Foreign observers and even some few senior officials of the South African government are now signing up for a further mug shot at whether the assault on immigrants is a kind of Xenophobia or Afrophobia. Making note of the already poor victims of the racial intolerance-Congolese, Malawians, Zimbabweans Mozambicans, Nigerians, Ethiopian, Somalis or other fellow blacks-many are now taking the bait that it is more of Afrophobic than xenophobic. In fact, it only took a waking moment for the likes of Nkosinathi Nhleko, a South African Police Minister, to label the recent attacks as merely Afrophobic. Mindful of the instances of similar attacks on India and Pakistan nationals, few at the other end of the sway however argue otherwise.
All the squabbling in these Afrophobic narratives is only up to baking the make-believe-story that all African immigrants are criminals. Unless one lost his marbles, this one is a no-brainer that the next thesis would read, “and criminals are the ones taking jobs up from citizens.” Extending the premise at more length, any dunderhead would come to the conclusion that these criminals are at the center of South Africa’s socio-economic crisis. How hard we pound such nuisance so deep into our psyche, the bitter pill for us all to swallow, however, remains in taking the courage to know all too well that the victims are only misplaced targets given the legacy of inequality in much of South Africa’s torso.
Placing the wager on short-term causes
Following the recent wave of xenophobic attacks particularly on black African immigrants in South Africa, the media was caught in hype onto one man-Zulu’s Tribal King Goodwill Zwelithini-whom nearly all thought is the mastermind behind the recent racial intolerance. Earlier in March, Zwelithini is reported to have addressed a gathering, during which he said, “foreigners should pack their bags and go!” alleging that they are taking jobs up from local citizens. Adding insult to injury, the King furthered that the support that many African nations extended to his country during the long fight against the white minority rule, and their roles in the liberation of South Africa thereof, “should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals.”
The media hype that the King’s speech is all behind what triggered such xenophobic attacks is blowing so hard and so often now that many are squared to buy the belief that xenophobia is just a recent phenomenon in today’s’ post-Apartheid South Africa, as if similar instances of racial intolerance had gone off the shores of the nation. It’s a pity that the Here and the Now-Wacko’s want us all believe that the shock of xenophobia would not have been felt in the first place had the tribal King, who may have tipped more at the omen of his eyebrows than the weight of the rule of law not uttered these words. In fact, Ingrid Plamary, associate professor at the University of Witwatersrand, African Center for Migration and Society (ACMS) observed that this kind of violence has a long history in South Africa, adding “the recent attacks show the lack of faith that people have in official institutions.”
The truth is at least, no one could easily forget the xenophobia in 2008 where Johannesburg had been the center of several anti-immigrant tensions which left dozens of fellow Africans dead in the attack. Even worse, Human Rights Watch related that businesses owned by immigrants had been burned in January of the current year. Making an-inside-out take of the country’s tremendous socio-economic ills, one could thus fail to challenge the fact that targeting fellow African immigrants just for same, amounts to only a self-defeating recourse.
Inequality – the bigger fish
Unless we want to put just ‘a feel-good’ face into the recent wave of xenophobia, the bigger fish for all the ongoing crisis is the inequality among the people of South Africa, which has largely been beyond measure. Indeed, the recent crisis is inherently alluded to the pile-on effect of the inequality, now out large in today’s post Apartheid South Africa. According to the official figures of the South African government, unemployment stands at 25 percent, a figure on the rise to 38 percent, when the definition of the unemployed is expanded to include those who have given up looking for work. Much worse, the government also admits that the unemployment rate in some of the rural areas reaches as high as 80 percent, especially among the youth. Hence, it is only if we want to kid ourselves that we subscribe to the belief that a scanty four percent of immigrants are taking the jobs of 13 percent of black South Africans, who already have given up looking for one.
In such conjectures, therefore, ‘the land belongs to me!” sense of patriotism may sound to be comforting to many of our South African brothers and sisters. But when only five million black immigrants are blamed for the huge unemployment and the colossal inequality in a country of 52 millions, that same sense of patriotism will not really be worth fighting for. It sure is not worth a dime of the time and resources of a well-meaning fellow South African.
That is why in a reaction to the recent wave of xenophobic attacks on fellow African immigrants- so called criminals, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, issued a statement over the week, noting, “the fabric of the nation is splitting at the seams its precious nucleus-our moral core is being ruptured.” In a similar vein, the Nelson Mandela Foundation noted that the inequality between blacks and whites is still a major concern despite some progress. “It is up to the present and the next generation to take up the cudgels where Mandela has left off. It is up to them, through service to deepen our democracy entrench and defend our constitution eradicate poverty eliminate inequality, and serve always with compassion, respect, integrity and tolerance,” The Foundation added. If at all the recent crisis has any lesson for the peoples of Africa and the rest of the world, it is only that South Africa has failed in its transition from apartheid to democracy.
nbspMekonnen Amare is a researcher in Horn of Africa affairs. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.
Source : The Reporter